Editorial November 11th 2022
Welcome to this week’s editorial,
This week saw the arrival of the new Council General Manager, Warwick Winn, to the shire.
After nine years in the seat, the old general manager stepped down, ending an era that many considered was the lowest in the history of the Eurobodalla Council, specifically in regards to the perceived toxic culture that devalued community consultation, inclusion, openness and transparency.
We now have a new Council and a newly appointed General Manager and with that comes the hope that the mandate of Openness and Transparency that most of our Councillors electioneered on will finally come to fruition.
The first test of this is approaching that will see the financials of the Bay Pavilion performance hopefully revealed. During the last term of Council the veil of secrecy around this facility was astounding, to the extent that Councillors had their laptops and mobile phones recalled to be trawled in an effort to determine which councillor might have leaked the name of the winning contractor to the media.
This action only went to prove to councillors the distrust that they were regarded with by Council executive. As it turned out, most embarrassingly, the information of the winning contractor had been obtained by a member of the general public who simply made a phone call to the winning tenderer.
Under the previous General Manager there was little, if any, information forthcoming around the new Batemans Bay facility. The community were continually directed to a flawed and outdated business case, the receipt of $8 million in pork barrelling by the NSW State Government was dismissed as a mere bagatelle, and the fact that Council had done its best to block provision of financial information from the community and state agencies only raised more suspicions.
But these are new days. Hopefully it will finally be revealed that the management contractor receives a set fee per month, irrespective of the turnstyle incomes. It is understood that the turnstyle incomes from memberships, the pool, the gym, the theatre all go into a single account from which labour, overheads and sundries are paid. If there is an amount over the monthly income then Council pays the shortfall or otherwise pockets any income above costs as a dividend. This arrangement will be in place during the management contractors three year contract.
Two interesting points are, firstly, that the same arrangements cover the Moruya and Narooma Pools. And secondly, our councillors have little, if any knowledge of the arrangements, the financials and the projected losses that the Bay Pavilion facility is set to bring. Given the rise in electricity and the downturn in the economy it is evident that income will fall as expenses rise. And this will be the ratepayers burden.
It is expected that the facility will cost in excess of $13 million in the first three years. In basic terms the Bay Pavilions represents around 3% of Council’s total budget and is expected to run at a loss of $3.5 million per year including depreciation.
To date the facility has been the Elephant in the Room that no-one wants to talk about. The general message is to speak only of the positives of the facility so as to encourage the community to use it and enjoy it. The more they do the less financial burden it might be. So the new councillors are not asking the questions as yet, but will they? It will require a councillor who has the gumption and temerity to say "The days of coverup, subterfuge and whispers in corridors away from the public view are over". The challenge is to find that councillor because the last term of councillors was found sadly wanting.
The telling of how the facility is dealt with, and more so, the proof of pursuit and delivery of openness and transparency by both the new General Manager and the newly elected councillors, is just around the corner.
To date there have been veils of secrecy, assorted deceptions, po-faced refusal of information requests, pork barrelling and threats around the facility, its actual costs and its forecast financials.
Hopefully, finally, we will be able to openly talk about the Elephant in the Room and learn just how it is operated, how much it costs to operate and what might be done to lessen the financial impact of the legacy edifice that spiralled from a heated pool for old folks into a $70 million yoke with unknown impact that no-one dares enquire for fear of being told that it isn’t positive to do so and the community don’t need to know that level of detail.